Near the beginning of the pandemic, Esther Abdel-Hameed, co-chair of the Social Ministry Board at Advent Lutheran Church in Charlotte, saw an email that interested her. The City of Charlotte was requesting grant applications from organizations to set up Little Free Pantries to help address the growing problem of hunger during COVID 19.
A Little Free Pantry is a mini food pantry, set up in a neighborhood, that allows everyone to “Take What You Need, Give What You Can.” Advent’s pantry is 5 feet tall and 12 inches deep.
The Advent Board applied and their request was granted, and the church converted a former Little Free Library to a Pantry to serve the diverse neighborhood in the College Downs community near UNC-Charlotte.
Both the enthusiasm for the pantry and the hunger needs in the community have amazed everyone. Sharon Thrower, preschool director at Advent, who recently agreed to lead this Advent ministry, said, “There are so many people who are food insecure. It’s just crazy.”
Neighbors in the area are both users of the pantry and donors of food. Some neighbors donate unneeded items or purchase food specifically for the pantry, while others visit the pantry frequently to fill up small bags with food to feed their families.
One volunteer talked with a mom who stopped by the pantry. The mom shared how much she and her children appreciate the food Advent provides and said that she regularly stops by on her way home from work.
Another neighbor recently stopped by and said she passed by the pantry every day – and told a volunteer she was excited to finally buy food to donate. That’s exactly what a Little Free Pantry is supposed to do – allow neighbors to share food with each other. However, Advent has taken the “free pantry” a step further.
Advent volunteers also fill the pantry with purchased items at least three times each week, and usually more frequently. One volunteer commented that the pantry is always empty. “I can fill it on Tuesday morning,” she said, “and it is empty by Tuesday afternoon.”
The church converted three indoor cabinets to food storage pantries, and in addition to the city funding, Advent Youth held a “Souper Bowl” fundraiser, and many in the Advent family support the pantry financially with small and large donations. An Amazon Wishlist was also set up recently so people can go online and send gifts of food. Thrivent Action Teams have also provided volunteer hours and funding.
The Little Free Pantry has become an inspiring community/church partnership – even though the givers and the receivers are only occasionally face to face – and Advent continues to explore ways to meet the hunger need in its neighborhood.